The protection of brown bears in Europe
Seen as a predator with a sweet tooth, a much loved model for soft toys yet outlawed and hunted down as a blood-thirsty beast: the brown bear. We humans are curiously ambivalent about this animal. In the Middle Ages brown bears were to be found right across the European continent. They have now however disappeared from the greater part of the area where they once lived having lost most of the habitats they needed.
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What are the threats to bears in Europe?
Up to a thousand years ago brown bears found ideal living conditions in Europe: great stretches of the continent were wooded and these woods provided the furry, brown giants with sufficient food and protection. In the course of centuries other land uses progressively cut into woodland leaving little in the way of habitat for bears. In addition as bears were intensively hunted, the brown bear population dwindled and in many parts of Europe was wiped out.
Although brown bears are officially protected by law in most European countries they are nevertheless still very threatened: roads and railways cut across their areas of retreat and in this way populations are cut off from one another and accidents with vehicles are increasing. Moreover poaching but also legal culling threaten the survival of these large, furry mammals in Europe. EuroNatur works with partner organisations in the countries concerned to campaign for the effective protection of the brown bear and for the preservation of their remaining habitats.
Where is EuroNatur taking action to protect bears?
There are still considerable populations of bears in Europe for instance in the Balkans and in the Carpathian Mountains. With the Balkans as a base, bears could one day regain their habitat along the arc of the Alps. This is why important focal points of our work in protecting bears lie in Croatia and Slovenia but also in Greece. As for the preservation of the remaining population of brown bears in Western Europe we are working with our Spanish partners in the Cantabrian Mountains in Northern Spain.
What actions is EuroNatur taking for the protection of bears in Europe?
- Preserving what remains: we develop management plans and put together packages of measures to secure the survival of the bear populations in Europe
- Securing food supply: We extend the range of food they can find for instance by planting fruit trees or putting down carcasses in areas important for the bears. Thanks to this measure, among others, the dwindling of the bear population in the Cantabrian Mountains has been halted and numbers have increased significantly in the last 15 years.
- Creating valuable databases: With the aid of monitoring systems we can gain important information on the distribution, density and roaming behaviour of the bears. It has proved possible to develop effective measures for their protection using the data collected.
- Preserving habitats: The purchase of land allows us to secure important areas of refuge for the bears. Over and above this measure we have run intense and successsful campaigns for the designation of nature reserves across political borders, as for instance in the Balkan Green Belt, and continue to do so.
- Linking up bear populations: Since the bear populations are in some cases so small that they would not be able to survive in the long term it is important to link them to one another. By creating and maintaining ecological corridors we make this possible and enable genetic exchange in the process.
- Building bridges: the bears' last remaining larger areas of refuge are being increasingly fragmented by growing road construction. We are working on reducing the negative effects of this habitat fragmentation on wildlife as much as possible. Read more about this project in Trans-European Wildlife Networks (TEWN)
- Preempting possible conflicts: With a comprehensive package of measures we are working to create the conditions for bears and humans to be able to live together peaceably; among these are the counselling of farmers in how to deal with the presence of bears (e.g. protecting their herds with special breeds of dog etc.) and also information campaigns among the general population.
- Fighting against the illegal hunting of bears: we support the setting up of bear patrols to further reduce the shooting and trapping.
- Creating perspectives for both people and bears: an important part of our project is offering local people economic perspectives that are in harmony with nature protection so that they are won over to protecting bears and can in this way increase the success of protection measures. Developing nature tourism is one such initiative.